If you grew up in the 80’s, you’ll remember there was briefly a ninja phase in cinema. Sho Kosugi ruled the universe of Canon for one brief moment, and everywhere people were buying Tabbi boots. Children longed for shurikens, but would have to settle for the similarly-premised wacky wall-walkers. To sum up: The 1980’s were fucked up. There’s some enjoyable nostalgia to be found in Ninja Assassin, if you remember those days (and boots) fondly. Rain stars as Raizo, who was trained as a ninja, but now wants his revenge against his ninja family, including Ozunu (Kosugi). There’s also some government involvement, which allows Naomie Harris to have a role. My review of Ninja Assassin on Blu-ray after the jump.
The premise is simple enough. Rain’s Raizo wants revenge cause they killed his woman. Harris’s Mika Coretti serves as the point of exposition, allowing her to explain the tradition and skills of said ninjas to which Rain is an ex-tribe member. This allows our entry point into the world ninja-ing, and from there, basically the movie stops every couple of minutes to have ninjas battle Rain, or ninjas battle the team of government bad-asses that come from Harris and her people. Like all films like this, the ninjas tear through swat teams, at least until the very end.
Running a reasonably swift 99 minutes, Ninja Assassin runs into the same problem that a lot of movies like this run into, in that you’ve come for one thing, and the film knows it. You want blood, and spectacular violence. The problem is that it needs to have a narrative. And when it comes to actually having a story, when all anyone cares about is bloodshed, you often find that the filmmakers backplate the set up and characters, and so you get stilted and perfunctory sequences. If you can excuse the fact that the film has to have a story to set up the action set pieces, you might not mind it, but if you like having a good story as the backbone for the action, you’re shit out of luck. You could argue this is also a throwback to the original genre.
To be fair, the film is shockingly, cartoonishly bloody. People get severed, and horribly mutilated before dying terrible deaths, and if you enjoy that (there’s no weight to any of the violence), then it’s not worthless. The film recognizes bloodlust as an amusing part of such tawdry efforts, and so the film is in on the joke. And, to that point, director James McTeigue stages these sequences fairly well – more for the blood than the actual fighting – and he never lets too many scenes go by without a fight. But at no point does anyone seem interested in the story, which is apparent from the clumsy way they introduce characters who have nothing to do with the plot and then ram them into the rest of the story. It’s as if the film was made by ten year olds who just wanted to get to the good stuff, but were forced to make a running time.
But the thing that undoes whatever goodwill one might have for such shenanigans is the reliance on CGI. From the weaponry to the blood splattering, there’s so much computer effects work, it takes away from the fun of a film that should be mostly retro in approach. In that way it’s wholly removed from the Grindhouse-style which doomed Quentin Tarantino et al. to box office failure, but also denies the film its chief pleasure, which is the sense that people are doing what they’re doing. Action can only benefit so much from CGI before it makes everything weightless, and as much fun might be had from the fight scenes – the people involved are athletic – there’s so much CGI assistance that there’s no sense of the actual violence of their actions. I like my violent movies to have at least some weight, and though I’ve rarely wanted to wrest the controller away from the film so I could play for myself, there’s definitely a feel of cutscene for much of the movie.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray comes with the film on digital copy and a DVD version. The Blu-ray is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The surrounds on this are excellent, and the transfer is immaculate. Special features include the featurette “The Myth and Legend of Ninjas” (19 min.) which incorporates film footage with a modest study of the ninja class. “The Extreme Sport of a Ninja” (10 min.) gets into the film’s stuntwork, while “Training Rain” (10 min.) is just what it sounds like: a chance to watch Rain work out. There’s also five deleted scenes (8 min.), and a sneak peak at the new Clash of the Titans.